Friday's state hockey: No. 3 Michigan beats No. 5 Minnesota Duluth after slow start, 5-1

Nolan Bianchi
Special to The Detroit News

Matty Beniers scored twice and the No. 3-ranked Michigan Wolverines rattled off five unanswered goals in the Ice Breaker Tournament opener to defeat the host, No. 5 Minnesota Duluth, 5-1.

The victory sets up what'll be a much-anticipated showdown with No. 1 Minnesota State in the tournament final on Saturday at 5 p.m.

FILE - Michigan center Matty Beniers, pictured here during a game at Yost Ice Arena in Jan. 2021, scored twice and the No. 3-ranked Michigan Wolverines rattled off five unanswered goals

Luke Hughes (Devils), Brendan Brisson (Golden Knights) and Garrett Van Wyhe each added one goal for Michigan. Brisson and six other Wolverines registered an assist as sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo (Sabres) stopped 28 of 29 shots to pick up his third win of the year.

"It's a good lesson to how we need to play on a consistent basis," Michigan head coach Mel Pearson said. "It's good that we had to show up and work, and find a way to battle through some things, and we did.

"We've got some playmakers, we have some goal scorers. We get some opportunities, we're gonna score."

Michigan (3-0-0) and Duluth (2-1-0) were scheduled to meet in the opening round of last season's NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines' season was cut short when the team had multiple COVID tests come up positive a few hours before puck drop.

After Duluth's Jesse Jacques helped his team take a 1-0 lead midway through the first period, Hughes teed up a one-timer on the power play at 19:22 to tie the game and give the Wolverines the juice they needed to erase a sluggish start.

"I'm proud of our players. It's a tough environment to come into," Pearson said. "We got off to a slow start. I did not like our start.

"Having said that, Erik Portillo did a really nice job, kept us in the game until we could get our feet under us."

Brisson scored his team-leading fourth of the season at 6:20 in the second to put Michigan up 2-1. He put the puck between his own legs, over the shoulder of Duluth goaltender Zach Stejskal, off the far-side post and in after receiving a pass from Thomas Bordeleau (Sharks).

Beniers (Kraken) scored his first of the game at 14:44 in the second to go up 3-1, slamming home a nifty seam pass from Johnson. He added another with just 46 seconds left in the game; a short-handed goal from Van Wyhe at 3:46 in the third that gave the Wolverines a commanding 4-1 lead.

Michigan captain Nick Blankenburg endured a scary moment when he had his head driven into the glass by the elbow of Duluth captain Noah Cates at 15:16 in the first period, an infraction that drew a 5-minute major penalty — during which Hughes tied the game — and a game misconduct for Cates.

Blankenburg returned to action in the second period. 

"Pound-for-pound, (Blankenburg) is the toughest kid we have on this team," Pearson said. "He's just a competitor, a warrior. You want him on your team, and glad to see he's OK."

Michigan can secure its first Ice Breaker Tournament championship with a win over top-ranked Minnesota State, who defeated No. 10 Providence, 5-2, earlier in the night. Michigan has previously participated in the tournament twice, 2000 and 2007.

Minnesota State stole the No. 1 ranking from UMass with a road sweep on the season's opening weekend, and split with No. 2 St. Cloud State a week ago.

The championship game can be streamed on NCHC.tv.

More of Friday's state hockey

Lake Superior State 3, St. Thomas (Minn.) 1: Harrison Roy had a goal and two assists as Brandon Puricelli and Jacob Bengtsson each added one goal and one assist for LSSU (2-3-0).

Michigan State 3, Miami (Oh.) 1: Jeremy Davidson had two goals, Dennis Cesana had two assists, and Mitchell Lewandowski and Kristoff Papp each added an assist of their own for MSU (2-1-0).

No. 17 Notre Dame 2, No. 16 Michigan Tech 1 (OT): Ryland Mosley tied the game for Tech (2-1-0) with under a minute remaining in the third period, but Cam Burke ended the comeback hopes with the winner at 4:54 in the overtime period, his second goal of the night.

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.